Monday, May 3, 2010


This Shabbat we read together the last two parshiyot of the book of VaYikrah - Leviticus.  This book has been filled with laws - laws about sacrifices, about agriculture, about kashrut, about interpersonal behaviors, and in general about what God will expect from the people of Israel as they go forward as free people to settle in the land of Israel.

The first of the two parshiyot - B'Har - describes the laws of shmitah and yovel - each one a time when Jews in the land of Israel were not to work the land.  Shmitah, which occurs each seventh year, is still observed today.  Every seven years Jews are to allow the land to rest - a shabbat for the land, just as every seven days we have a shabbat for people.

Question to think about:
  • You may have heard about sabbatical leave in some professions - particularly teaching.  How do you think this is related to the law of shmitah - letting the land go unworked every seven years?
Another important issue in this parasha is the mitzvah not to charge interest when lending money (to another Jewish person).

Questions to think about:
  • Jewish law about interest worked when we lived in an agricultural world.  It doesn't work so well in a society in which money is used more widely.  The rabbis created a document called a "heter iska" to help solve this problem.  You can read about it here.  What do you think about it?
  • The law in the Torah is specific to relationships among Jews.  In his article Economic Justice for Insiders and Outsiders Rabbi Joshua Heller examines some of the challenges this law has created over the years.  How does this feel to you?
  • One of the reasons many people believe the Jewish people has survived is the ability and willingness of the leaders to adapt to changing situations.  So we have created a framework for living according to Jewish law and at the same time living within the modern world.  Some people feel this is a positive thing, others that it is negative.  What do you think?
  • The past two years have highlighted major issues with lenders and borrowers, and there is a great deal of attention being paid to how loans were made, by whom, to whom, and so on.  Does Jewish thought have anything to add to the conversation?  Read this article on Predatory Lending from the Jewish Business Ethics Center of Jerusalem.  Do you agree with this interpretation?  Why or why not?
The second parasha, B'Hukotai, sets out the blessings that will come if the Jewish people obey the mitzvot and the curses that will ensue if we do not.  Reward and Punishment.
  • What if bad things happen to good people?
  • What if good things happen to bad people?
  • What are the advantages of using reward to motivate behavior?  What are the disadvantages?
  • What are the advantages of using punishment?  What are the disadvantages?
  • How is our thinking today the same as the thinking in Biblical times?
  • How is our thinking different?

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